The Refining Love of God
Today's guest post is from our friend Jonathan King! We were blessed by the insight and thoughtful words that he contributed to disccusions while he was on staff and thankful for the truths he is sharing with us today!
When I think about the prophecy of Malachi, my mind immediately travels to the myriad references lodged in my memory made by present day authors, pastors and teachers to this famous oracle of Malachi:
"Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, 'How shall we return?' Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, 'How have we robbed you?' In your tithes and contributions...Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need." (Malachi 3:7-10)
The interpretation and application of Malachi's prophecy which often follows perhaps sounds something like this: "Are you experiencing a distance or discipline from God in your life? What are you withholding from him? Give generously to Him (or give your "tithe" - 10%? - to the church in order that God may in turn pour out his blessings upon you and our church."
But what happens when we zoom out and look at Malachi's wholistic message? How are we truncating his oracle? What was he really saying to his original audience and what does that mean for us today? What does Malachi's message have to do with what we at SOS are doing here in Memphis?
Malachi was speaking to a people and a culture which had grown accustomed to giving God their second best (or third, or fourth...).
For example, they were offering him blind animals in sacrifice. Because the LORD "loved [them]" (Mal 1:2 - the Hebrew word 'ahab here has very relational, intimate tones - he was "desirous for them") and had made a covenant with them, he was understandably hurt and was jealous for their affection and devotion. They had simply diminished his covenant
Additionally, husbands were not loving their wives; they were unfaithful and desirous of other lovers. This was a second sign of their rebellion. (Mal 2:13-16)
Significantly, we also see that the people's attitudes and actions towards their neighbors was not marked by the mercy and justice of the God whose name they claimed. The LORD accused them directly for oppressing their hired workers by not giving them a fair wage, oppressing the vulnerable women and orphans and for casting aside the sojourner among them. (How are we, the church, repeating this neglect and injustice today in America?)
Lastly, the people were literally wearing God out with their empty, vain words. They cried out, seeking God's justice, but yet their hearts - and therefore their actions - were not consistent with the character of the very God for whom they were crying out. (Mal. 2:17)
It was these sins of commission and omission - that which they were doing and not doing - which grieved the God who had pursued them with his love and made a covenant with them. The LORD of Heaven's armies thus declared that because of their second best offerings, the people were literally robbing the God who created, called and covenanted with them.
And because of this, Israel was failing to keep an important part of the covenant: to be a light to the Gentiles. Many times in this short message from Malachi, we see him champion this central mandate for the covenantal people of God. Their self-preserving, myopic, half-hearted attitude and actions were resulting in a failure to display God's holiness to the nations. God's desire was for Israel to be the cause of people "from the rising of the sun to its setting...in every place" (Mal. 1:11) to declare "Great is the LORD beyond the border of Israel!" (Mal 1:5) and to "offer incense to [His] name" (Mal 1:11). God wanted people from every culture and people group to see Israel and say "WOW! The LORD is holy and awesome!"
Was hope dead or did it flicker yet in this darkest of nights? Malachi holds out a promise of restoration: "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me...He is like a refiner's fire and like a fullers' soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD." (Mal 3:1-4)
Only by the refining love of God by way of his messenger, would it be possible for Israel to actually give pleasing worship and offerings to the LORD. Only once he acted on their behalf, would their be an avenue for the people to walk in justice and compassion toward their neighbors. Only then would the people be able to be an effective witness to the nations.
How awesome is it that God loved and acted on Israel's behalf - and our's - by sending the final prophet, the Lord Jesus, to make ransom for our rebellion while we were yet enemies, dead in our sins (see Ephesians 2:1-10 & Romans 5:6-11). Only by faith in him and his sufficient sacrifice and now with the power of his Spirit can we carry out the good works and make offerings which are pleasing to God and which are effective in witnessing to the nations about this Holy God of justice who cares for the widow, fatherless, sojourner.